How Are Students Placed In Classes?

Have you ever wondered: how are students placed in classes? How are they separated? What are the factors that are involved? Do the teachers do it or does the principal do it? Can I as a parent have some say in the matter? What about new students?

In all likelihood, you child’s school has a process just like every one of the schools where I’ve worked. At the first school where I worked as a teacher, there were 5 grade level teachers. At this school, the teachers did the bulk of the work in sorting the students into classes for the following school year. Starting in May, we completed a grouping card for each student in our class. These were color coded (pink for girls and blue for boys–yes gender stereotyped colors, but simple for everyone to recognize), 4×6 index cards that included information such as: overall ability level, special needs (ie. Special Education, Gifted, or ELL–English Language Learner), allergies, wears glasses, overall behavior, degree of parent involvement, names of other students from whom to be separated or placed with together, special interests/talents, and space for the current teacher to write any additional information that may be helpful to the next teacher.

Then in June, the teachers at each grade level met to place students into two classes for the following grade based upon a number of factors: student’s personality (and teacher style), individual needs, gender, and balance in ability level and behavior concerns. Teachers typically avoided placement of twins/triplets, members of the same family, as well as any students who may have had difficulty getting along with each other in the past. In my opinion, teachers are best equipped to do placement as they know the students within the school setting and usually know their teaching colleagues in the next grade level. It is a challenging task with the ultimate end goal being two heterogeneous, balanced classes. Then the principal would look over the lists one final time for any adjustments (typically letting us know of any changes) and kept them in her office over the summer.

This has been the process that I’ve also seen at a couple of the other schools where I worked.

The most difficult part of the placement process is that even after classes are created, things change over the summer–families move out of the area, parents/guardians decide to move to a different school, new families enroll, teachers resign and new ones are hired. Each of these factors could easily lead to an imbalance in the classes that were originally and tentatively created.

For example: The fluctuation of student enrollment, could potentially lead to a very imbalanced class. For example:

• One 2nd grade class with 15 returning students and 10 new students.
• The other 2nd grade class having 24 returning students and just 1 new student.
• Imagine then that the class with 10 new students was 8 female and 2 male.
• Imagine what that does to the balance of gender in that class.
• It also throws off the ratio of returning students to new students, which is critical to the culture of that classroom as returning students tend to be readily acclimated to the positive school culture and expectations of the existing school students.

If this type of situation were to occur, those two classes would need to be re-balanced for the long-term success of those classes. This could potentially happen even after school has started.

At the various schools where I’ve worked, I’ve never posted class lists until a few days before school started. My main reasoning for this was because of the ebb and flow of enrollment which often occurs all the way through the first couple of weeks of school. So I would delay the release of class lists until the last possible moment so that it’s hopefully as final as a class list can be. I think it’s worse to release class lists early and then have to move a number of students around AFTER they’ve already come to know what class they were going to be in. In the past, I’ve found that is much harder on students and frankly it’s not critical to announce class lists that early especially knowing that enrollment changes up and even following the first day of school.

Ultimately, the goal for each school is to create balanced, heterogeneous classes, which makes for the most productive learning environment for all.

I’m preparing two separate posts about whether parents should be allowed to choose their child’s teacher. I see both sides of the coin on that one. I’ll also write about the middle/high school process as it’s a bit different.

When does your child find out which teacher they will have for the following year? When would you like to find out which teacher they’ll have?